If Carroll map bills fail, judge, voters may decide

March 16, 2006|By MARY GAIL HARE | MARY GAIL HARE,SUN REPORTER

If the General Assembly fails to settle the contentious issue of how to create five districts for Carroll County's Board of Commissioners, a judge could do it or voters could elect five people at large, according to an advisory by the attorney general's office.

The analysis, by Maryland Assistant Attorney General Katherine Rowe, says the county cannot revert to the current system of three commissioners elected at large. An at-large election for five commissioners seems more practical, although that would conflict with a 2004 referendum calling for five elected by district, Rowe said.

"Five commissioners are to be elected in the 2006 election," Rowe said yesterday. "Without a map, they would be elected at large and would serve four-year terms. Hopefully, by then, the county would have a map."

A map bill is languishing in a House subcommittee and fueling fears that the bill might die before coming to a vote. The Carroll delegation supports one map, and local leaders and residents favor another. The committee heard testimony on both map options last month but has taken no action.

Absent an established map from the General Assembly, a judge could define the districts along established population standards or the county could proceed with an at-large election, even though voters overwhelmingly opted to select five commissioners by district, according to the letter of advice, dated Feb. 27. A copy was obtained yesterday by The Sun.

With a July 3 filing deadline looming for the September primary, dozens of prospective commissioner candidates cannot campaign until the districts are established. A court redistricting could probably not occur in a sufficiently timely manner, Rowe said.

"The committee is getting barraged from all sides," said Del. Tanya Thornton Shewell, who represents central and northern Carroll County. "The people who came to Annapolis to testify against the map may have messed up the system favored by county voters."

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